TEL AVIV, PALESTINOW.COM — Israel and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to begin normalizing relations in a deal brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump and hailed as a breakthrough between the two countries.
It is only the third such agreement between Israel and a regional Arab state, and the first by a Gulf kingdom. In return, Israel agreed to “suspend” plans to annex its West Bank settlements as had been initially slated for this summer—though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was still committed to annexation in the future.
The surprise agreement was first announced by Trump in the Oval Office, with a trilateral call held between him, Netanyahu, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the de facto ruler of the UAE. Despite growing covert ties in recent years, the two countries were officially foes.
Israeli and Emirati teams will be meeting soon to negotiate the details of the agreement on a host of issues including security, economic investment, reciprocal embassies, direct flights between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv, and joint work on a coronavirus vaccine. Israeli media reported that a full signing ceremony would likely take place in Washington before November’s U.S. general election.
A beaming Netanyahu, speaking at a prime-time news conference, termed it a “historic evening” that “opened a new era in Israel’s relations with the Arab world.” Comparing the UAE favorably to Israel, Netanyahu described both states as growing world powers that had “turned the desert into blooming lands.”
In a paradigm shift from the old “land for peace” formula that has dictated decades of Middle East peace efforts, Netanyahu described the new deal as “peace for peace, and peace via strength. Here too we made a breakthrough.”
For his part, Mohammed bin Zayed was less effusive and chose to lead with the price Israel had paid, tweeting: “An agreement was reached to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories. The UAE and Israel also agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.”
But the fact that the agreement required nothing of Israel on the Palestinian front underscored a shift underway in at least parts of the Arab world.
Emirati officials had expressed concern regarding the fallout from any such annexation push, with the foreign minister tonight calling it a “ticking bomb” that they had successfully defused. The Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had earlier this summer taken the unprecedented step of publishing a front-page op-ed, in Hebrew, in a mass-circulation Israeli daily, hinting at the quid pro quo announced Thursday.
“We have conducted quiet diplomacy and sent very public signals to help shift the dynamics and promote the possible,” Otaiba wrote. Yet an Israeli annexation, he added, “will certainly and immediately upend Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and with UAE.”